At the same time as the cap ended the direct debit per month was changed to £76 from £90 and then this month we get a notification that the direct debit was going to change to £156 per month.
That would make our costs for gas and electric around £1800 a year. In the past when they've changed it by some rate we've just rung them up and said we'll pay whatever seemed reasonable to us and that's been accepted.
So I rang them up this time to do the same thing...
The original posting in the new journal is here
After listening to the same 16 bars of the theme to Dr Finlay's Casebook (My little sutie), I finally got put through to a guy with a pleasant Scottish accent (one of their selling points is that their call centres are all in Scotland), and explained that we wanted to pay £90 a month as our electricity usage was fairly constant throughout the year.
First off we were asked for accurate readings of the meters and yes our current balance was still in credit (though that brought up a very interesting fact later on), but no according to their estimation we would use far more in the Winter and the rate has doubled you know and you were on a very cheap rate before.
Yes, I agreed that the rate had doubled, but it had been doubled for two thirds of the previous quarter and we were still in credit and at the rate at which we use electricity (all the damn computers and the tumble drier which is used all year round), we were going to be consuming at about the same rate (other than gas) in the future. Yes I agreed that because the gas would be higher we would pay more, £14 pounds more. We were not going to be paying £156 a month to them, period.
After around twenty minutes of me persistently plugging away and pointing out that their assumption was always that the winter quarter was far in excess of the middle of the year and that they didn't use previous years quarters to estimate against, he finally agreed to take to his manager my offer of £90 a month and if there were any shortfall at the end of the Winter Quarter we would pay it.
I get put on hold.
The phone comes off hold after a couple of minutes and I can hear a conversation in the background. At first I thought it was just another call in a different cubicle, but no it was the supervisor talking about how to handle our call. Essentially she said that the company was taking a firm line now and that they weren't allowing anyone to change their direct debits because of the rate change and that they had to nip this in the bud, etc, etc.
When he came back I immediately launched at him demanding that I get exactly the same treatment as previous customers had had and that I get to alter the direct debit as I saw fit in relation to rate at which we consumed gas and electricity. He was taken aback.
He then tried to convince me that when people did that, that at the end of the three months they were shocked at the amount by which they were in debt and that they weren't allowed to put people in debt. I countered by saying if they produced monthly statements people would know the rate at which they consumed and were owing and that problem would generally go away.
There was a bit of a conversation about how utility companies over estimate all usages and so overcharge everyone to cover those people who default and whose usage is abnormal. He didn't accept this of course.
I carried on pursuing my original position of paying only £90 a month and pointed out in their letter to us that we were allowed to reduce the direct debit by making a one off payment but that it didn't state when that one off payment had to be paid. We could, given the wording, reduce the direct debit now and make any required balancing payment at the end of the quarter.
This floored him and he admitted that that was what the wording said and again went off to his supervisor. This time he came back and said that if we were willing to pay £100 a month that this would be acceptable. I hummed and hawed, though I was always prepared to go to £100, and finally agreed.
I detected a certain amount of sympathy from him in all of this and so I asked him something which had been puzzling me since the beginning of the conversation.
"On the September bill we have a credit of £62, now we've given you the meter readings you say that the credit on the account is now £86. Does that mean the previous reading was wrong or what?"
"No, its the way the system works, it takes into account your next payment."
"But the next payment doesn't get taken till the 1st of October, probably the second as its a Sunday, but you're saying the account shows that money as having been taken?"
"Yes it is very odd", he said "but its the way the system works. When your account ends, say it ends on the 31st August and your direct debit is set for the 20th, the next payment in September is taken even though the account is closed. I had a customer yesterday with exactly that."
"But they got their money back?"
"You realise its a breach of the Direct Debit rules to take money on a mandate once the agreement is terminated?"
"I can pass you to ****** who can explain the terms of the Direct Debit".
"No, that's ok, I know the Direct Debit rules. But you are saying that your accounting system is recognising money that it hasn't yet received?".
On the face of it, this is recognising revenue before its been received and is fraudulent accounting, it can significantly inflate performance numbers and given that any Treasury scheme they have probably uses overnight funds without actual transfer they're probably making interest on money they've not yet received.
Other than that, if you do have an account with Scottish Power and you want to reduce the amount of your direct debit and save the hour long phone call I had with them to get that far, just quote the letter at them.
Of course no doubt this month any similar letters will be reworded, but I'd give them the same choice I did, accept my terms or lose me as a customer.